Li Xueyue simply smiled at his words. Years ago, if someone had told her that she would become the Empress of a flourishing Kingdom, she would think that person was deranged. But here she was, in a palace that she would soon rule over.
"Did you just realize?" Li Xueyue teased whilst continuing to scribble her ideas down. She didn't pay any mind to her messy handwriting. The more illegible it was, the less likely that people would be able to read what she wrote. This was simply an excuse, or she hadn't perfected her penmanship since about two and a half years ago, when the Li Family hired instructors to teach her.
"Where is my compliment?" Yu Zhen grumbled whilst crossing his arms like a spoiled child. She was too focused on writing her ideas down to even cast him a glance.
Yu Zhen tapped the table, on the empty spot next to her parchment. Believing he was lonely, she slid her palm on his hand and caressed it with her thumb.
"I'm busy," she calmly explained, as an adult would to an impatient kid. She continued writing, even when he gawked at her.
"I'm busy too, before you came in to have a chitchat, my Wangfei."
"My dear husband, it was a discussion about the well-being of this country."
"I was still busy."
"You're always busy." Li Xueyue pretended she was still writing, when in reality, she was done when she touched his hand. But he was being so persistent to get her attention that she wanted to tease him a bit.
"But I always have time for you."
"I never said you didn't."
"You made it sound like it."
"It only sounded like that to you."
Yu Zhen glumly stared at her. His attention drifted to her parchment, his eyes squinting. He could not read her illegible chicken scratches. What was she even writing that took this long?
"I need another parchment," Li Xueyue lied. She released his hand and placed a hand out, waiting for the parchment. But she was met with his fingers interlocking with hers, and a rough yank.
Li Xueyue's lips twitched in amusement. He was such a child… "Yes, my dear husband?"
"Read to me what you wrote," Yu Zhen said.
"It was the gist of our discussion," Li Xueyue explained.
"I still want to hear it."
"You already heard it."
"Well, tell me one more time."
Li Xueyue snorted. "Should I worry that you are growing senile at the young age of twenty-five?"
Yu Zhen scoffed. "And should I be worried that you are losing your mind at such a young age?"
Li Xueyue smiled at his words. At times, she seemed quite crazy, didn't she? But his entire family was insane. It would not be long for them to influence her.
A different topic came to mind. She placed her brush down, resting it upon the ink slab.
"I have not seen my younger brother in a while," Li Xueyue abruptly said. She lifted her gaze and focused it upon him. He leaned over the table, curling a finger under her chin, pulling her closer to him.
Li Xueyue's eyes briefly went to his lips before she quickly averted her gaze. Ever since the incident, he had not touched her. Not even a kiss upon the lips. She wondered if he no longer found her attractive.
"It would be better not to see him, Sunshine."
"Why not?" Li Xueyue instantly asked. Bai Yihao must've been lonely in this enormous palace, all by himself.
"He is under the supervised care of Yanxi. That child will be fine."
"I still don't understand why I should not see him," Li Xueyue interjected. She wrapped her fingers around his wrist and pulled back from his touch.
Yu Zhen was not bothered by this. He flicked his wrist and seized her hand, fondly stroking her knuckles. His touch was light and teasing, like the caress of feathers.
"Rumors will stir that you are tending a child who resembles you."
Li Xueyue's heart quivered at his words, knowing exactly what he was implying. People would talk. They would think Bai Yihao was an illegitimate child of hers.
"The servants are too terrified of you, especially after the stunt from this morning. They will not gossip."
"They will harbor that thought in the back of their minds, and each time they look at you, they would be reminded of such precarious beliefs," Yu Zhen warned her in a low, quiet voice.
Li Xueyue's shoulders sagged in disappointment. He was right. She glumily stared down at the floor, wishing it was not true. Wishing words weren't so vicious, and gossip wouldn't ruin the life of a woman. But these were the sacrifices she had to make.
"Yihao is well taken care of. He smiles a lot more lately, and has been attending school. The instructors speak highly of him, and many believe he is the nephew of Yanxi, despite the lack of resemblance."
Li Xueyue numbly nodded her head. He touched her chin, lifting it for her.
"Do not lower your head, my Wangfei," he softly said. "There are risks that are not worth taking."
Li Xueyue bit her bottom lip. His thumb brushed against her mouth, forcing her to release her bottom lip.
"I know, I know." Li Xueyue sighed. She only wanted to get a bit closer to Bai Yihao. But it would ruin both of their reputations. Additionally, her slight resemblance to the late Viscountess Bai Yihua might trigger something within him…
"Besides, Sunshine," Yu Zhen cupped the side of her face. "If it is children that you want, we can make—"
"Aren't you repulsed by me?" she suddenly blurted out.
Yu Zhen was taken aback. He gawked at her as if she was stupid. Then, his confusion morphed into anger.
"Who was stupid enough to tell you that?" he snapped, standing up in a heartbeat.
"No, it was just—"
Li Xueyue jumped. She had blinked and he was standing directly in front of her. Yu Zhen pulled her to her feet and wrapped a protective arm upon her waist. He peered down at her, observing her face for a brief second before shaking his head.
"You are so wise, yet so foolish," Yu Zhen muttered. He placed his hand on the back of her head and pressed her against his chest. She relished in his embrace, warm and comforting.
"It's just…" Li Xueyue's voice suddenly dried up. She would sound desperate. Quietly, she hugged him back, her grip tightening upon him.
"Just what?" he demanded in a low, patient voice. Though, she heard the underlying rage.
Yu Zhen had thought someone no longer wanted to live. How could she not understand it? Yu Zhen was mesmerized by her, intoxicated even. He had always been, ever since their first encounter. And everyday, he would fall deeper in love with her, a little bit more than the day before.
Her laughter was his symphony, and her smile was a masterpiece. Yu Zhen loved every bit of her, even when she was stubborn, even when she refused to be tamed. Of course, there were times that she pissed him to no avail, and there were tiny things he disliked about her, but this was normal. There was no such thing as a perfect relationship, only the flawed ones were real.
"Nothing," Li Xueyue peacefully said. She heard the skip of his heart, racing furiously for her. Yu Zhen hugged her as if his life depended on it.
"Are you sure?"
Li Xueyue smiled. "Truly."
"Really, really sure?"
Li Xueyue laughed. "If I hadn't known better, I'd think you were turning into me."
Yu Zhen scoffed. "If I hadn't known better, I'd think you are delusional."
Li Xueyue slowly shook her head at his words. It was moments like these that she would forever cherish, even in the distant future when only one of them was left in this world...
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